When the competitors line up for the final of the men’s 400m at London’s Olympic Stadium, the crowd favorite won’t be among them.
Despite coasting home in his heat, double amputee Oscar Pistorius finished dead last in the semi-final with a time of 46.54 seconds. But the South African has been the beneficiary of a colossal amount of public goodwill over the last few days – and there can be no doubt that his story is an inspiring one.
Having had both legs amputated below the knee following a birth defect, Pistorius, with a little help from Icelandic prosthetics company Össur, has earned the right to compete at the very highest level of international athletics.
He has won friends on the track too. After yesterday’s semi-final, Kirani James, the 19-year-old Grenadian world champion asked Pistorius to exchange the rudimentary nametags that are pinned to the fronts of the competitors’ vests.
“Oscar is so special to our sport, and especially to our event it, so this is a memorable moment to be out here competing with him,” said James. “I really respect and admire the guy, I just see him as another athlete and another competitor, and more importantly I see him as another person. He is out here making history, and we can all respect and admire that.”
In the BBC studio, Denise Lewis, a former British Olympic gold medal-winning heptathlete was also keen to laud Pistorius. But she did ask a telling question: What if he were to start winning?
As it stands, his personal best of 45.07 is some way behind the world’s leaders – not to mention Michael Johnson’s 13-year-old world record of 43.18 – but how would Kirani James have felt if, instead of finishing last in the semi-final, Pistorius and his carbon-fibre prosthetics had denied him an Olympic medal?
We may learn more later in the week when Pistorius goes in the 4x400 relay. Although he ran in the preliminary rounds of the 2011 world championships in South Korea, he was omitted from the South African quartet in the final – they went on to win the silver medal.
If the South African relay team manages a similar performance on Friday night – this time with Pistorius – it will be interesting to see whether his competitors continue to hold him in such high esteem.
Edwin Smith is a journalist and a gentleman pedant, and tweets @EdwinSmith.